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HMS Hood: The Best Battlecruiser Ever?

HMS Hood
HMS Hood. Image Credit: Royal Navy.

HMS Hood – A Symbol of Power and Majesty – Launched on August 22, 1918, the battlecruiser HMS Hood was meant to be the very symbol of the British Empire, of power and majesty, and even underlined the fact that the “Pax Britannica” was still in force. At 38,000 tonnes (42,000 tons) she was also the mightiest warship afloat when she was launched. However, she would prove inadequate by the start of the Second World War.

Here are some notable “Fast Facts” about HMS Hood:

Battlefield Experience Was Employed

Designed before the Battle of Jutland, but modified as a result of the lessons learned, Hood was a powerful warship and remained the largest military vessel in the world for some 20 years. She had begun as an enlarged Queen Elizabeth-class vessel that was designed in response to the planned German Mackensen-class battlecruiser, but her design was modified after the lessons learned at Jutland.

She was the final battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy.

Hood was fitted with the Mark I 381mm (15-inch) gun of 1912, which was at the time the standard weapon of Royal Navy capital ships, and as already mounted on Queen Elizabeth-class, Revenge-class, Renown-class and other classes of vessels.

Large and Fast

The concept of a battlecruiser was to have the armament of a battleship and the speed of a fast cruiser. That certainly described HMS Hood, which was powered by four sets of Brown-Curtis single reduction gear steam turbines. That gave her a maximum speed of 32 knots. In addition to being the largest warship in service at the time, she was also the fastest capital ship in the world.

A common belief is that Hood‘s biggest flaw was her armor, as her deck and side armor failed to provide continuous protection against shells coming in from all angles. However, the system used on Hood was typical of the period, with its main weight concentrated against low-angle fire but later slightly modified with extra horizontal protection against high-angle fire and bombs. The belt on the battlecruiser was angled outward to worsen the impact of any incoming shell.

In addition, anti-torpedo bulges were fitted, and the bilges were fitted with tubes to help absorb shock in the event of a torpedo strike.

HMS Hood: Named for an Admiral

There have been several Royal Navy warships named for historic figures, including admirals – Admiral Nelson and Admiral Rodney are just two that come to mind – but HMS Hood is unique in that many may not known which Admiral Hood it was named in honor of!

There were several distinguished British Admirals named Hood, the first was Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood, who served with distinction under the aforementioned Admiral Rodney during the 18th century wars with France. Viscount Hood’s younger brother, Alexander Hood became 1st Viscount Bridport, while their first cousin once-removed was also named Admiral Samuel Hood, and became a 1st Baronet. The latter Admiral Hood commanded the warship Zealous at the Battle of the Nile.

The last of the line in this family of seagoing officers was Rear-Admiral Horace Hood, who commanded the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He was killed when his flagship, HMS Invincible, was hit by a German battlecruiser shells and exploded. In 1918, Hood’s widow was asked to launch the ill-fated battlecruiser HMS Hood.

Planned Upgrade

Her status as the Royal Navy’s finest capital ship meant that she was almost constantly on active service, and by the end of the 1930s that had taken a toll on the once majestic warship. As a result her performance suffered, and she was unable to attain her maximum design speed.

However, she was serving with the Home Fleet when the Second World War began. In September 1939, she was hit by a 550-pound aircraft bomb and sustained minor damage. After being repaired, she became the flagship of Force H, and took part in the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in July 1940.

She had been due to be fully modernized in 1941, which was to bring her up to the standard of other capital ships build during the war. However, due to the war, it was impossible to remove her from service and she never received the required update – which would have included the addition of full deck armor.

Sunk With Great Loss of Life

It has long been questioned whether such an update might have helped save the lives of nearly 1,500 men. On May 24, 1941, together with the battleship HMS Prince of WalesHood engaged the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait.

The second and third salvos from the mighty Bismarck struck the battlecruiser amidships, while shells from the Prinz Eugen also hit the Hood and set alight some anti-aircraft shells kept on deck. At 0600 hours, as the British warships were altering course to bring all their guns to bear, Hood was hit again by a salvo that pierced her lightly armored decks and detonated in her after magazines.

She blew up with a tremendous explosion and quickly sunk. Only three of her 1,419 officers and sailors survived.

HMS Hood

HMS Hood. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

HMS Hood

Image: Creative Commons.

HMS Hood

Image: Creative Commons.

HMS Hood

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.